Welcome to part 5 of my 6 week series on being transformed by the Bible. Here is a quick recap of where we’ve been so far:
- We can’t learn the story if we don’t read the story
- The Bible isn’t the teacher’s edition of life
- Don’t read the Bible alone
Those were the “unhelpful” posts. But last week we started the “helpful” ones.
- Reading the Bible is a discipline
One of the things that has been most helpful to me in reading the Bible has been learning how to put things in context. I very much used to be a verse cherry-picker. But I realize now how unhelpful that is. It doesn’t help you learn the story or live it. It helps you find a sentence that can pretty much mean whatever you want it to mean.
But when you learn to put things in context, you will see that each verse is a sentence (more or less).
Each sentence is a part of a paragraph
Each paragraph is a part of a chapter
Each chapter is part of a book
And each book has a place within the whole dang thing.
And often, when you consider these things, the verse that you were using to back up your stance on whatever topic can end up saying something totally different or even the exact opposite of what you thought.
How About An Example?
How many of you knew I was going to talk about Jeremiah 29:11? How many of you have heard this?
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
People use it as a blanket promise that God is always going to do good things for them and take care of them. I even heard someone testify about living through a car crash and this was their verse from now on.
Which sound really nice. But that isn’t what the verse is about. Let’s take a closer look.
For I know. Why does he say “for?” That means something came before this that influences this sentence. What was that sentence?
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
Hang on, this isn’t about surviving car crashes. This is about trusting that God will remain faithful to his people even though they are stuck in Babylon. Apparently people are trying to tell them something else. Specifically, they are telling the people that the time in Babylon won’t be that long.
But God wants them to know it will be a long time. 70 years.
When you keep pulling back and putting in more context, you see that Jeremiah was calling his people to repentance. None of them listened and so they were taken into Babylon as exiles. He writes them a letter that basically admonishes them to continue to live as God’s faithful, holy people in exile.
And one day he will bring them out.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Because we are good contextual students of the Bible.
God’s people have a calling and a purpose. God’s people also know there are consequences for not obeying those things.
The verse takes on an entirely new meaning when we put it in context. And, I would argue, a more interesting, compelling, and realistic meaning.
So Remember . . .
The next time you want to crack off a verse about something, put it in context. You might be surprised about what it actually says.
But here’s the thing, it takes work. It takes time. You might be confused for a while. That’s ok. We’re just learners, remember?
Here are a list of some of my favorites:
- Philippians 4:13
- Psalm 46:10
- 1 Peter 5:7
- Ephesians 5:22
- Hebrews 9:27
What are some of your favorite out of context verses?